Category: General

“All I could think was, stop the bleeding!”

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Injured boy with young man attempting to stop the bleeding.

Imagine you are the young man in the image above. Can you stop the bleeding and save that boy?

I have known these statistics for a while. And I knew that if I were the person kneeling by the boy in the image, I would not be ready to save him.

So last week, Joe and I signed up for a Stop the Bleed training put on by our local fire and police departments as part of the CERT program.

What I remembered from “tourniquet training” in the old days.

If you’re over 70, you may recall how early first aid classes dealt with severe bleeding. (My older brothers were both Eagle Scouts, so I got the training when they did, sometime in the 50s.) That training was simple. First, try to stop the bleeding by pressing down hard on the wound with a towel. If that didn’t work, tie your belt or even a bandana around the bleeding limb, above the wound, and twist it tight.

Really, that is pretty much all I remember about using a tourniquet. But it came with a vague warning about “not leaving the tourniquet on for too long.”

Concerns about leaving a tourniquet on “for too long” were legitimate, of course. We all understood that limbs denied blood could ultimately be lost. And in those days, when response times for medical help were probably in hours, not the minutes we expect today, this warning was enough to turn us off to this first aid option.

Today we have new data, new tourniquets, and new training.

It was the military experience – and data capture – in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that re-established the value of the tourniquet as a life-saver in situations of severe trauma. Today, not only do all soldiers carry tourniquets – and know how to use them – but so do police officers and other emergency responders. (I checked with my local traffic officer, and sure enough, he had one on his belt!) And in 2015, ordinary citizens were invited to participate through the Stop the Bleed program.

Step One – Analyze the situation.

  • As noted, in a bleeding emergency, time is of the essence. You, as bystander, are going to be there before First Responders arrive. YOU ARE the first responder in this emergency!
  • Before you do anything else, check that you are safe and that nothing else is threatening you or others.
  • Faced with a wound that is seriously bleeding – pumping out, pooling on the ground — Call 911 or tell someone else to do it.

Step Two — Decide how to stop the bleeding.

Consider these three actions designed to squeeze the artery that’s emptying the blood out your victim’s body. All three of these take PRESSURE!

  • Apply direct pressure on the wound using your hand/s. You can use a big bandage, a shirt, whatever. PRESS HARD on the wound and don’t quit. Tell the victim it will hurt, because it will.
  • If the wound is a deep cut or deep hole, a surface bandage or pressure won’t work. PACK THE WOUND with gauze, a towel, a t-shirt, whatever . . . until the wound is fully and tightly packed and has stopped bleeding. Again, this will hurt the victim – it’s the cost of staying alive!
  • If neither of these efforts works, and the blood is still pumping from an extremity (arm or leg), APPLY A TOURNIQUET. This is where practice is essential. Your face-to-face course, the online course, or YouTube videos will demonstrate where to apply a tourniquet (loop the strap above the wound on the arm or leg), how to tighten it (using the buckle and then the windlass), and to fasten it securely. Once again, the purpose of the tourniquet is to stop blood from flowing out of a wound in an arm or leg. Once it’s on, don’t loosen it or take it off – that’s the job of an emergency medical professional.

You won’t be able to apply a tourniquet unless you have one. So let’s look at adding a tourniquet to your first aid kit.

We tested two different types of tourniquets in our class, and I have since then done a fair amount of research to see what’s available online. Here’s some of what I found.

  1. First thing you’ll notice is that tourniquets seem to come in two types: American-made at around $30 each, and foreign-made costing as little as $6 each. Cheap tourniquets look very similar to “real” ones – but they can actually not fit right, wrinkle, or even break. My recommendation: budget $30 – $40. If you need a tourniquet, you want it to work!
  2. American tourniquets come in two colors, black and orange. Color doesn’t seem to make a difference in quality. I like orange because it’s a lot more visible in a dark pack.
  3. The two most popular tourniquets do have slight differences in how the strap goes around the arm or leg and fits into the buckle, and how the windlass (the bar that you turn to create the pressure) is fastened. Both have a place to write the TIME the tourniquet was placed.

Some examples to look for:

American-made CAT tourniquet, black.

The CAT, or Combat Application Tourniquet, is a true one-handed application (meaning you could put it on your own arm or leg) to stop the bleeding from a serious wound. To get to Amazon’s sales page, with more details for this classic tourniquet, click here. As you know, if you purchase through this link, we may get a small commission – which helps me do all the research for these Advisories!


Here’s a second, American-made tourniquet, the SOFTT-Wide, Gen 4. This tourniquet comes in several models; I like the bright color and, in particular, the extra fastener that keeps the windlass secure once the tourniquet is applied. (Hands slippery with blood, etc . . .) Again, head to Amazon for details and prices.

American-made SOFTT tourniquet, red.

At our class we practiced with both models. It took me about 4 minutes to get the tourniquet on the dummy arm and properly tightened. Too long, of course. But that was my very first try. I am confident that now I’ve done it once, I could do it again, twice as fast.

In closing . . .

A tourniquet isn’t for every first aid kit. You will have to be determined and confident to use one in the midst of a frightening, perhaps shocking, emergency involving massive bleeding. But if you are prepared, you may be able to stop the bleeding and save a life that will otherwise surely be lost.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you are investing in a tourniquet, consider adding gauze strips to your purchase. Better than a t-shirt for packing . . .

How safe are your emergency flares?

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Rainy car accident scene with one emergency flare

Wha’ ?????!!!

So what brought me to THIS topic?  Let me tell you!

Over the past few days we’ve had HEAVY rains here in SoCal, thanks in part to another “Atmospheric River” roaring in off the Pacific. We get a couple dozen of these “rivers” every year. In just hours they can create monster surf and dump massive amounts of rain, resulting in flash flooding and land slides. Visibility is reduced. Driving conditions deteriorate quickly. Accidents happen – maybe like the one shown in the image above. So this article about emergency flares is first for my west coast neighbors, and then for anyone who ends up driving in the rain – which should probably be everyone!

Imagine suddenly coming across this situation in the pouring rain or fog. Can you tell what’s happening? What’s that pole or wire over the car? Are those emergency workers off to the right? With just a single flare on the ground close behind the car, is it clear what you should do? Stop entirely? Go left or right to get out of the way of someone coming up behind you?

I am convinced that having good emergency flares, the right number of them and knowing how to set them out could make a huge and life-saving difference. In the past I’ve written about flares and reflective triangles. This is an update because climate – and technological solutions – have changed!

My first update question has to do with technology. What makes a good emergency flare today?

Our CERT training story . . .

About 15 years ago our local CERT program offered an update training for graduates: “How to use road flares.”  Of course, we signed up! On the designated date we joined about 20 other grads at 8 pm in a parking lot behind the local police station. Weather was sparkly clear but very cold. Most of us had never touched a flare in our lives.

A half dozen flares were handed out. They were the traditional waxed (strike) flare with a plastic cap, over a foot long and surprisingly heavy. (Probably 20- or 30-minute burn time but I didn’t know the difference.)

An officer demonstrated how to light the flare.

Not one of the CERT grads could get their flare to light.

Multiple tries later, some did. A few just gave up entirely and handed the flares over to the next person.

We got some valuable experience, and some good advice.

After all these years, I recall these safety pointers:

  • When you light the flare, it may spit sparks! Hold the flare pointed down and away from your body.
  • Plan where to put the flare so other drivers will see it. That may be 100 to 200 feet behind your car, depending on the speed of the traffic.
  • Don’t toss the flare! Place the flare where it won’t roll and catch something else on fire – like grass beside the road or gas spilled on the road.
  • When the situation is cleared up, extinguish the flare by grinding it out on the ground. You can also just let it burn itself out.

By the end of the session, it was clear: If you intend to use wax flares, you’d better burn up a few in practice before you have to light one up for real!!

Me being me, I also came up with this conclusion: A wax flare is a HOT CHEMICAL FIRE just waiting to jump out and get me!

In an emergency, when I’m scared and nervous, I’d want something easier and safer to handle! So what’s an alternative to the wax flare?

Today’s simpler and safer alternative is the LED flare!

By 2019, LED lighting had become the lighting standard. Today, LED flares compete successfully with wax flares. With cool lights driven by batteries (some rechargeable), the LED flares can run for hours if need be. Some are even water-resistant. When the event is over, these flares can be packed up for use another day! (May take fresh battery power, of course.)

The most popular LED emergency flares today are nicknamed “hockey pucks.”

Orange "hockey puck," a reusable emergency flare with LED lights

It’s easy to understand the name. The flare is a disk about 4 in. across and a little more than an inch thick. According to ads that show them being driven over by big truck tires, they are practically crush proof! (Of course, if trucks or cars are actually running over your flares, that probably means they aren’t seeing them!)

Hockey pucks come in packs. some with carrying cases and other safety tools. Most pucks have an orange shell of aluminum or plastic, perhaps with a magnet or handle. As for the lights inside, on some models of pucks, pressing a switch may change flash patterns (solid, blinking, rotating) and colors (white/red).

With all these options, prices range widely – starting as low as $20 and going up to over $100 for multi-pack kits. Interested in checking out some actual products? Click here to go directly to a popular flare kit at Amazon where, as you know, we are Affiliates and receive a small commission if you buy through one of our links.

I really like the idea of these simple, easy on, easy off reusable tools!

But wait!

As we view image after image of rain damage and flooding here in California, it’s clear to me the hockey puck’s light would disappear completely under heavy rain, on a flooded street, or in falling snow – just when you need it most! So . . .!

Is there a third option? Let’s take a look at another, more robust version of an LED flare.

I first noticed this flare in a photo on LinkedIn. Here’s a version of that photo, slightly edited.

Rainy scene with disabled car being protected by properly laid-out emergency flares

When I compare this accident setting to the one at the top of this page . . .

  • First, I see multiple flares, not just one or two.
  • The first flares are far enough away from the disabled car that if I were approaching it, I’d have time to slow down.
  • Flares are set to direct vehicles around the disabled car. (This photo is actually from a video, which shows the lights blinking in a rotating flash pattern.)
  • The green and orange colors pop!

As a driver coming across this scene, I would know just what to do — namely, slow down and ease left around the disabled car!

The image struck me so powerfully that I clicked through to the manufacturer’s website.

I discovered that this stand-up LED flare is called the BEACON-4-LIFE from Life Safety Lighting. After looking at photos and videos and reading all the FAQ at the site, I was even more intrigued. So, I picked up the phone to talk to the owner and inventor, Danny Vartan.

After 17 years’ service as a firefighter, Danny knows the dangers associated with combustible flares. And he’s watched as people have abandoned wax flares for plastic hockey puck flares. He isn’t entirely satisfied with either option – and generously responded to all my questions about why not. Some of my questions are below . . .

  • Are wax flares truly dangerous?” Do people get burned? Have wildfires been started by flares? Have people been killed at accident sites because flares weren’t visible? Danny’s answer to all these questions is, ”Yes.” And while flare-related “accidents” don’t seem to be tracked . . . this is clearly a concern.
  • Does a wax road flare expire?” (I’m thinking of all the people I know who carry stuff in their cars for years!) Interestingly enough, there’s no expiry date for auto flares, unlike military and coast guard flares. In any case, if your flare is cracked or punctured, has gotten wet, or been stored at high temperatures for an extended period – you could be dealing with a much more vigorously burning flare when you try to light it. Replace old flares!
  • How many flares does it take to safely protect a disabled car and its occupants – or, for that matter, First Responders on the scene?” Three is the minimum (one on top, one in front, one behind). According to Danny, the optimal number is five. (That’s also what his police customers buy most frequently.) You may need even more if cars are approaching from around a corner.
  • How does the BEACON-4-LIFE differ from other LED flares?” First, it stands tall – about 12 inches high. It’s heavy enough to be very stable, thanks to its batteries and a rubber base (or optional magnetic base). A smaller version of the light, called EMERGI-SAFE, is about half as high. Both versions have 20 high intensity LEDs that provide a full 360° of visibility and can be converted for use as a flashlight. For professional use, the BEACON-4-LIFE and EMERGI-SAFE have a clip that allows the flare to attach to a standard cone, doubling their height. These flares can actually be tucked INSIDE a rubber cone at night, turning the whole cone into a glowing orange light.
  • “How are the lights powered?” Alkaline batteries power the lights, NOT rechargeable batteries. I was pleased to hear that, because here at Emergency Plan Guide we caution against counting on being able to recharge your devices in an emergency.
  • “What’s the story with the colors?” The flares display either one or two colors (combinations of red, blue, amber, green, and white). The two-color modules can be set to flash in six different modes – like triple strobe, fast flash, etc. According to Danny, the amber and green light combination shown in the image has become particularly popular because it stands out so clearly from brake lights or turn signal lights.

As you would expect, at around $60 each these flares are more costly than wax flares or hockey pucks. Since they have a long, reusable life, however, their only ongoing cost is for replaceable batteries. One of these flares can replace hundreds of combustible flares.

You can see that I am enthusiastic about enhanced LED emergency lights. If you too are concerned with road safety, I encourage you to spend some time at Danny Vartan’s website, Life Safety Lighting. And if you have questions that aren’t answered there, call him up just like I did. (His phone number is on the “Contact” page of the site.)

Stay safe out there,

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Disclaimer: At Emergency Plan Guide we are not professional First Responders, or, for that matter, people who regularly work in dangerous outdoor settings. Firefighters or police will want to know a lot more about flares than what is in this Advisory.

P.S. For everyone: When you consider the value of the vehicle you are driving (in the 10s of thousands of dollars?), and the risk of injury or even death in an accident – going for the cheapest item on the shelf doesn’t make sense.

In the late 90s, a nephew of ours found himself on a rural road at 2 a.m. with a broken-down car and no lights of any kind. He never made it home; he was hit and killed by a passing car. Even one emergency flare might have saved his life.

The 2024 Preparedness Pie

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A pie chart with three slices representing percentages of preparedness

(I considered New Year’s Resolutions for this Advisory. But Google says 23% of people quit their resolutions by the end of the first week of January, and 43% quit by the end of the month. So I decided to go with an end-of-the-year assessment. I’m using a couple of questions from the very first book in our mini-series. I’ve also added some findings from FEMA’s 2023 Annual National Household Survey on Disaster Preparedness, just out. It may be a mish-mash, but here goes . . .!)

Christmas is fading fast. New Year’s is galloping right at us. So little time left to consider just how well we did on being prepared in 2023, and see what plans we want to make for 2024!

“Do I fit into the orange slice of the preparedness pie, or the blue? Or maybe the gray? Which slice is which, anyway?!” By the end of this Advisory, you will know!

Question #1: Do you feel that you are prepared for an emergency?

Question #2: What threats should you be preparing for in YOUR community?

Personal example: Joe and I have lived in both northern and southern California, so “the big one” has been on our list of threats forever. (I am getting older so “forever” has taken on a new definition . . .!) We feel pretty confident about our earthquake preparedness, but every year we add just one more piece of equipment — this year, two more emergency lanterns — and we learn more about earthquake response, too. This year’s focus was on after-the-quake inspection and clean-up.

As prepared as we think we are, this year I have had to add a brand new threat to my list. When I filled in our address on California’s Office of Energy Services Hazards map, I discovered that we live right on the edge of a liquefaction zone! Who knew? (Watch for more on this in 2024 as I get up to speed.)

OK, so you have a list just like we do. But probably all our lists need updating!

2023 was an historical year when it comes to emergencies and crises. Check out these potential additions to your list.

  • Weather events are the easiest to identify. Anything new for your part of the country? In 2023 we got our very first hurricane in California. Just yesterday I watched a video of 25 foot monster waves that put 8 unsuspecting beach goers into the hospital! Jot down the 3 or 4 weather events most likely for your neighborhood, and include any new threats.
  • Any engineering or infrastructure threats, such as out-of-date bridges or dangerous train tracks, maybe frequent power outages? (Did you read how Texas courts have said that Texas power plants have no responsibility to provide electricity in emergencies?) In our senior community, an extended power outage turns so quickly into an emergency!
  • How about economic threats – from crop failure to interest rate fluctuations to labor strikes? And don’t forget to add cyber threats to your list if it’s not there already. We’re not just talking threats to big business. Even home-based networks are being hacked.

Any of our “Smart devices” could be hacked: smart security camera, a printer, smart TVs, our home heater – just about anything that is managed by a smart phone. Find out here what the hackers are looking for. And everyone with an email account has surely noticed the rise in scams! AI tools such as ChatGPT are generating a mammoth increase in malicious phishing emails, almost impossible to distinguish.

  • Political unrest – Maybe this hasn’t been on your list before, but it’s certainly possible – indeed, likely – as we head into 2024. How to prepare? Start by paying attention to what’s going on around you. Get off your phone in public! Take sensible security precautions – like locking your home and car. Follow the news. Don’t inadvertently find yourself in locations popular with trouble-makers.

A phone story. While it wasn’t related to politics, it does have to do with paying attention! This year was the first time I have actually yelled at a parent. School had just let out, a crowd of kids was growing across the busy street waiting for my signal to start crossing. Suddenly a parent, intent on her phone call, walked through the kids and directly onto the crosswalk without a pause. Of course, the kids started following her just like the Pied Piper! Furious, I ran toward her, into the traffic, yelling “Get off the phone!’ (I managed to suppress the adjective you might have expected in there.) She looked up, still intent on the call, smiled tentatively . . . and KEPT RIGHT ON WALKING toward me with the kids dutifully following! Thank goodness for the drivers who were paying attention to what was going on!

  • Climate-related disasters have overwhelmed the news – and the insurance industry – in 2023. Wildfires, fire and heat-related air quality, sea level rise– these have exploded into the news because of their massive financial impacts. Let’s hope you aren’t likely to be in the path of any of them. But even if you dodge them, your business could change. Your insurance rates may change. Plan to confirm coverages.

Whew, that’s already a lot. But wait. We can’t stop yet, because here’s the next important question about YOU!

Question #3: Have family circumstances changed that could result in an unplanned-for-emergency in 2024?

For example, have you added a new baby since you last made your list? Or maybe a pet? Perhaps a family member has been injured or is suffering from sickness or the results of an accident. Your emergency plans for 2024 may have to include extra care or new preparation for . . .

  • Special foods or diet requirements
  • A supply of new or different prescription medicines
  • Special furniture or medical devices (and their power source)
  • Plans for help or extra care if you have to evacuate

Over the past year we have updated a number of our Advisories covering planning for these personal needs. The good news: prescription drugs seem to be easier to collect these days, or to find in emergencies. Utilities are offering back-up power supplies to some customers with medical devices (mostly low-income). But when it comes to evacuation, neighbors continue to be the best source of help. How can you build stronger friendships among YOUR neighbors in 2024? Keep reading!

Remember that the orange slice of the chart represents you – and the people who say they are prepared? Now let’s move on to the blue slicethe 38% of people who “intend to prepare for emergencies.”

Question #4: Blue or orange, what action steps can you take to kick-start or fine-tune your preparations?

I really like this chart of preparedness actions from the 2023 FEMA survey. How many have you already taken? Which actions are on your to-do list in 2024?

Chart of 12 Preparedness Actions coming from the 2024 FEMA Survey, showing changes from 2022 to 2023

Notice, in particular, how many more people assembled supplies (upper left). Yes! But note the “community oriented actions” at the lower right. They are woefully missing for so many, orange or blue!

Need ideas for getting involved with neighbors? At Emergency Plan Guide we “specialize” in community involvement. On our website, click on “Neighborhood groups” in the Advisory Categories section of the sidebar. You can connect with over 200 mostly real-life stories on that topic!

OK, to wrap everything up. Did you get some ideas? Have more questions?

As we have discovered, and as you may have discovered by now, “emergency preparedness” is a lifestyle, and not a “thing.” Once you’re into it, it gets easier to make the slight adjustments required to keep prepared. I trust that you were reminded today of one or two “adjustments” for 2024 that make sense for you.

And if you’ve read this far, you should have at least one more question: “What’s the gray 3rd slice of the pie represent?”

Glad you asked! That’s the 14% of people who “have not prepared and have no intention of preparing.” I don’t expect any of them to be reading this, but of course — you could share!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let us know in the comments of any “new” threats you’re putting on your list for 2024. Or threats you aren’t sure whether or not to add. Other readers will be interested!

P.P.S.  I mentioned that a couple of these questions originally came from our mini-book, Pre-Disaster Plan. Its 39 pages introduce 14 basic preparedness questions, along with answers based on our experience and common sense. If you’re a fan of question/answer style reading, grab a copy for yourself for a more complete assessment of where you stand. Click here for more details.

Kitchen fire! Quick, put it out!

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Suddenly, Thanksgiving is just a week away! I’m remembering some of our own family Thanksgivings, including two bad ones that featured cooking fires. One fire was in a deep-fryer (fortunately outside). One was in a toaster oven right in the kitchen. Both after much drama and flailing about, fires were safely extinguished. The memory was a reminder: Thanksgiving is the peak day for cooking fires! (What’s the second most dangerous day for cooking fires, you ask? Take a guess. Answer is below!)

In past years we have done lots of research here at Emergency Plan Guide on fire extinguishers. Of course, we’ve tested real fire extinguishers at CERT trainings. At our neighborhood meetings, we’ve enjoyed trying out different types of extinguishers — even a digital fire extinguisher designed to train professionals. One of our best meetings was built around BYOE – Bring your own extinguisher, with guest speakers from the fire department. (It was embarrassing to find out how old some of the extinguishers were!) Some photos from those meetings . . .

Today I want to introduce two NEW FIRE EXTINGUISHERS that we’ve never written about before!

First: Fire Extinguisher Spray in a Can

Since half of all house fires start in the kitchen, having a way to IMMEDIATELY PUT OUT A KITCHEN FIRE is imperative!

Yes, Joe and I have an extinguisher in our kitchen. (And we put one in his daughter’s house after that ill-fated toaster-oven fire.) But a regular extinguisher is relatively heavy. Gotta reach up to pull it out of the mounting, get a good grip to break the plastic tie, then pull the pin, aim, squeeze – you know the drill.

Consider this alternative. A simple spray can sitting right there on the shelf. Small, easy to grab, easy to activate. Fire in a pan? Grab the can extinguisher, spray until the can is empty – and the fire is out. Fire in the toaster? Grab, spray until the can is empty – and the fire is out.

Because they have limited capacity, I wouldn’t consider spray extinguishers as a replacement for “real” 2 or 5 lb., ABC portable fire extinguishers. And as with any fire that expands to be larger than a foot high, you need to call the fire department. But if you can catch a fire right away, a spray extinguisher could save your kitchen — and your turkey!

These spray extinguishers are suddenly being promoted everywhere – with plenty of test reports, customer reviews, etc. Right now, this is the model I’d consider. The image shows just how small the can/canister really is. Amazon offers a 5-pack, which is also what I’d recommend. One in the kitchen, one in the garage, one in each car, maybe one near the fireplace. Prices are amazingly good this week thanks to Black Friday promotions! Here’s the direct link.

Second: Fire Blanket

This second extinguisher has also burst onto the market in large part because of battery fires. While most blankets are designed for one person to handle, probably in the kitchen, I’ve seen some amazing videos where two fire fighters, armed with a giant and very heavy blanket, pull it over a whole electric car in order to put out a battery fire!  (It takes hours for a car fire like that to be extinguished, even with the blanket.)

For our holiday planning, we don’t need a giant heavy thing. Popular blankets are about a yard square, easily handled by any adult and most children. The blankets come folded inside a package meant to be hung on the wall. The blanket itself is made of thin fiberglass material; you shake it out just like you’d shake out a tablecloth.

Fire on the stove? Pull your fire blanket from its package, shake it out, lay it over the fire so the flames are completely covered. Done.

The purpose of the blanket is to suffocate the fire.

As with the spray extinguisher, you need to put the blanket to work immediately, while the fire is still small. If you delay until the fire is too big, the blanket won’t be able to suffocate it.

I am recommending the Prepared Hero blanket below for a couple of reasons. First, the company makes more than just one size so you have choices. Most useful, however, are the company-supplied videos on Amazon’s sales page. Watch those videos! (These still sales photos don’t do the blanket justice!)

Once again, if this makes sense for you, get several blankets. One for the kitchen, the BBQ area, the garage, the car. Click here to get to the sales page, the videos, and to check options and prices.

Now, if you are hesitating as to whether you need more extinguishers, it would be worth it to check the ones you have. If they are over 10 years old – they need to be replaced! Do you see dents, scrapes, or rust? Your extinguishers need to be replaced! If their pressure readings are low – they need to be replaced!

This is a good time to review your whole fire preparedness plan.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. And did you guess correctly about the second most dangerous day for kitchen fires? Sure enough – it’s CHRISTMAS DAY! So be prepared for that day, too!


Holiday Gift Cards – Scams Waiting to Happen!

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Oh, dear! Black Friday hits tomorrow – and Cyber Monday is coming in just two weeks! Since half of your neighbors started on their holiday shopping as early as October, you may already be behind the curve. But take a deep breath, and read through this Advisory. It’s all about being prepared for some shopping solutions, plus emergencies you want to avoid – all related to holiday gift cards.

Full disclosure: I am NOT an expert on scams. In researching this article I found myself going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Still, I’m confident that what’s here will get you properly alerted. You may want to dig deeper!

Let’s start with a look at the popularity of Gift Cards

According to the Conference Board, U.S. consumers plan to spend slightly more on gifts this year than they did in 2022: $654 this year, up from $613 last year. More to the point for this Advisory, 67% of holiday gift spending will be on gift cards!

They’re just so convenient! So easy to wrap! Even getting two of the same card isn’t a tragedy!

But as you might imagine, the more money involved, the more scammers and hackers are attracted. Be prepared!

Here are some popular gift card scams to watch for:  

  • Urgent threat!”

    You get a phone call (or emails from an unknown “official” (IRS, gas company, sheriff’s dept. etc.) saying your payment is overdue. Or the contact is from someone you know, asking for your help. To solve the problem, you are told to run to the store, buy a gift card and then give them the numbers off the back of the card. They typically ask for a specific card, like from Target, Google Play, Apple, or Walmart. If you get that call or that email, JUST HANG UP. (If it truly sounded like a family member, check to be sure it was fake!)
  • “Empty card!”

    As a crossing guard, I get a handful of gift cards every Christmas from “my” kids. I’ve been lucky – every card from the kids has been good! But not so every card we’ve collected from other sources. A couple of times, when we’ve activated new cards, we discover that after our first purchase the rest of the money seems to have disappeared. Or, the card reads “ZERO balance” the very first time we try to use it! 

    What has happened? Scammers have copied down or used a magstripe reader to capture the bar codes of gift cards on the display case. They track these numbers by calling customer service. When a balance has been loaded onto the card, scammers use the card number to make purchases online. Much of this is done automatically via BOTS – and it can happen so fast you don’t even have time to put your newly activated card to use!

  • Shifty Cashier.”

    This happens most frequently in busy stores, when lines are long and people are in a hurry. You are ready to pay for your purchase with a new or a partially-used gift card. You hand the card to the cashier, who turns to process the transaction – and then hands back a card that looks the same but has already been emptied!
  • “Fake Card Activation Site.”

    I’ll bet that by now you have come across fake emails leading to fake websites purporting to be from online companies you do business with. This is just another variation on that theme. You get a gift card. It tells you to head to a website to activate the card. The scammers create websites that look like the real thing but have just a slightly different web address. (Maybe a hyphen in there? Or an extra letter?)

    You arrive at the site, enter the card number to be activated . . . and the scammer turns around and immediately uses the numbers to activate the card at the official site. Your money has disappeared.
  • For sure, it’s not from the local big box store or gas station or drugstore, where row upon row of different cards are displayed. As we have described above, these displays are child’s play for scammers. If you do want to buy physical cards, consider getting them directly from your favorite retailer’s own shop. (Check several of the cards. Make sure they all have different bar codes. Is the packaging intact, with no tampering? Is the PIN completely hidden?)
  • It may be safer yet to purchase gift cards through Amazon. (Amazon sells its own cards, also cards for Starbucks, Kohls, etc.) Whatever, you should avoid websites that sell just cards or that sell “discounted cards.” (Keep reading to find out why.)
  • Take the time to read the fine print. Some cards charge an activation fee.  (Most notably, VISA) That is, you buy a $30 card but when you pay for it, the bill comes to a few dollars more than $30. You buy a “discounted card” worth $25 — but only get $15 worth after a purchase fee. Planning to give cards to elderly grandparents? If they don’t use the card right away (say, within the first 12 months), they may discover that a monthly fee starts eating away on the balance for “inactivity!” Different cards may apply different policies. Know your cards!
  • Document your cards.

    Have you just bought a card? Keep a copy of the card and the store receipt – take a picture with your phone!  The numbers and receipt will help you track orders or if you want to file a loss or a fraud report.
  • Buying online?

    Use the websites of companies you know, and verify that you’re on the “real” site and not on a “fake” site!  (Look for https:// in the URL. Check for contact information, return policies, etc.)
  • Watch your account balances.

    Check bank and credit card activity frequently for any unknown or unauthorized transactions. Report to your bank immediately.

Here’s the kicker. If you’ve been scammed or your card has been stolen, the chances of you getting any money back are . . . slim to none. I think you’ll see, prominently displayed wherever cards are for sale, a policy that reads something like this (probably much more nicely worded, of course):

“No refunds on any gift cards for any reason.”

Now, if you buy for a reputable company, AND you have proof of the purchase, you MAY be able to get a refund for lost money. Report to the merchant immediately with all details. If a scam is involved, you can also notify the local police. And finally, you may also want to notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks scams and frauds.

Oh, I discovered one small positive. ln a few states, like in California, if the value of your card drops below $10, you can trade it in to the retailer for cash.

The point of it all? We consider holiday shopping the same as everything else at Emergency Plan Guide. The more you know, the safer and more secure you — and the rest of us — will be!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. After all this research, I must admit that I, too, really like gift cards as presents! And it looks to me as though the very best place to purchase is directly online, through Amazon (where we are affiliates, as you know). Amazon offers a couple of options:

  • Go to the gift cards page on Amazon and pick out an eCard from a number of styles and from a number of vendors. Fill in the recipient’s email, set a delivery date, and voila, your gift is on its way. Here’s a link to that full selection page.
  • You can also get Amazon gift cards packaged in neat, black boxes with orange accents or bow. Very stylish. Here’s a link to the boxed cards page.

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of each sales page to read all the “terms and conditions!”



“Who you gonna call?” (for disaster relief)

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helicopter rescuing survivor

Our usual emphasis is on individual preparedness.

This morning I took stock of the emergency supplies Joe and I have. With the exception of extra batteries, I was pretty well satisfied. Yesterday, a new neighbor announced that she had not only added 2 more gallons of water to her stash but also signed up for an earthquake alert. Our usual emphasis is on this type of individual preparedness. I hope Emergency Plan Guide inspires that in you, too!

At the same time, if you’re aware at all, you know that some emergencies are simply beyond the power of the individual to cope with. Consider the recent fire in Maui. The earthquake in Morocco and the flood in Libya. Horrific loss of life. Widespread damage. Continuing pain and suffering.

In cases like these, organized disaster relief is essential to nearly any recovery.

In the United States, FEMA provides that relief on the part of the government. FEMA has representatives in every state, sending crews, supplies and administrative support, including cash, loans and grants, to victims, first responders and state, tribal and local governments.

Here’s the problem in the U.S. — FEMA is about to run out of money.

It’s just September, but we’ve already been dealt 23 separate billion-dollar weather disasters so far!

Moreover, we aren’t even halfway through the traditional hurricane season. The chart below gives you an idea of how September rates historically — and so, what we might expect.

Chart showing storms and hurricanes peaking in September

I actually just checked on the current outlook. The image below, from YouTube’s Mr. Weatherman (one day ago) shows Hurricanes Nigel and Ophelia heading our way!

Image showing hurricanes forming in Atlantic

So it’s pretty clear that if congress doesn’t reach agreement on a spending bill to re-fill the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, parts of the country affected by these approaching storms will NOT get the support they may have been expecting. In particular, FEMA may have to stop funding already planned and on-going repair and restoration projects, hazard mitigation initiatives, fire management strategies, etc. as well as pre-disaster resources.

If congress doesn’t reach agreement on a spending bill, Who you gonna call for disaster relief?

The cartoon at the top of this page is an exaggeration, of course. Saving and sustaining lives will always be at the top of the priority list for FEMA.

But we can’t take FEMA support for granted.

Unless Congress can get through its current chaos, the government is going to shut down. And that will mean, like the cartoon says, “Funding has run out.”

Preparedness has many facets. Keep an eye on this one.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team


On oxygen and the power goes out!

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PART ONE: WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST WEEK WHEN WE HAD AN HOUR-LONG POWER OUTAGE

We experienced a short power outage a few nights ago. Afterwards we collected stories from neighbors about how prepared they had been. The results?

  • Most neighbors had flashlights or lanterns, and they waited calmly for the lights to come back on.
  • A few neighbors had NO lights – and they have since hustled to get batteries and/or lights – particularly, lights that attach to mobility devices!
  • But one group of neighbors had no easy solution. These were people on oxygen when the power went out. Their stories were painful. They came to our neighborhood meeting with this question:

“What do I do if I am on oxygen and the power goes out?”

We didn’t have a good answer for these folks! In fact, in a previous emergency we had faced people having to evacuate without their oxygen, and we were unable to identify them, much less help all of them.

This time, we’re making another effort to find out how to help. As you will see, it comes down to this:

Your personal emergency plan has to have a way for you to manage without your oxygen or to have a way for you to continue to get it!

Remember, I am not a medical professional, so I do not present this information as a complete, medical answer. Please do your own research with your doctor and trusted caregivers and suppliers. This could be a life-or-death situation.

We have done a lot of research on this topic, and this is what we have discovered so far. These questions will give you a head start on putting together a PERSONAL emergency plan for yourself or another person on oxygen for how to respond if the power goes out.

Your first question should be: “How long can I go without my oxygen?”  

Contact your doctor. Emphasize that you need to plan for a power outage. Find out what you can expect if your oxygen is stopped for whatever reason. It’s possible you could cut back on activity and make it through OK – but only your doctor can answer this question.

Second question: “Can I get a reserve or back-up supply for my home?”

The answer here depends mostly on whether you own or rent your oxygen equipment. Here are three possibilities:

  1. If you own your equipment, go back to the manufacturer for help buying a back-up solution. They may want to see a new prescription from your doctor to be sure they are giving you the correct solution.
  2. Don’t forget to check with your utility company to see if they have special programs for people using “qualifying medical devices.” You may be able to sign up for a battery back-up or generator for when the power goes out. Some utilities offer rebates to help you buy a back-up power source. You’ll have to get approved for any of these programs in advance.
  3. If you rent or your equipment is paid for by Medicare or insurance, ask your oxygen supplier about getting a back-up. Unfortunately, the stories from people about getting back-up equipment in this situation are patchy. If your supplier seems hesitant or unhelpful, keep reading!

“If I don’t have a back-up supply at home, where could I go to get the oxygen I need during a power outage?”

If you have to leave your home, we are now talking about evacuation. All the planning for evacuation comes into play, with the added concern about your oxygen supply. Specifically . . .

Your oxygen concentrator needs electricity. A safe place to plug in your equipment might be available at a local emergency shelter, a church, or a hotel in your town or nearby. But call in advance before you set out, to be sure they have the type of connection you need. And don’t plug into a multi-plug or extension cord!

If you use an oxygen tank, you may need to go to the emergency room at a hospital or an urgent care facility for direct access to oxygen. Some sources suggest you might get help at a local police or fire department. I checked with our first responders they said they are not set up to offer oxygen and they would have to direct you to a medical facility.

Again, find out NOW where medical facilities are located near you. Find out if they have emergency power. Find out if they might be able to help if you are on oxygen and the power goes out or you are worried about running out of oxygen. 

How will I get there? Who will take me? Will they be able to explain my needs if I can’t?

These are all important questions for anyone with a mobility or medical issue. The challenge: thinking it through and making arrangements with a neighbor, friend or family member BEFORE the power outage hits! You’ll probably want to make a list with all the key info about your oxygen use, including a copy of your oxygen prescription. Attach your list to your emergency go-bag.

If you have the answers to all these questions, you will know what to do and when to do it in a short or extended power outage.

PART TWO: WHAT I LEARNED IN RESEARCHING THIS ARTICLE

If you are already on oxygen, you probably know much of this. But your friends and/or family may not – so share it with them! Also, consider sharing with neighbors who are talking about having to go on oxygen. These are the basics all of us should know about!

“What’s the first thing people need to know about emergency oxygen?”

This was the first question I asked of one of the oxygen concentrator sales people I talked to. (I talked to a half dozen of them. They were all extremely helpful.) Her immediate answer: “When a patient needs oxygen as part of medical therapy, it is prescribed by a doctor and delivered through a medical device. To get oxygen, you need both the prescription and the device. ” (In other words, you can’t prescribe it for yourself – and you can’t just simply order a device online.)

“What kinds of devices deliver oxygen?”

The two most common devices are an oxygen tank and an oxygen concentrator. The patient breathes in the extra oxygen from the device through a tube – a small clear tube that goes into the nose (called the nasal cannula) or a tube that feeds some sort of face mask. The amount of oxygen is carefully monitored. It is measured in liters per minute. Baseline amount seems to be 2 liters/min. and it can go up from there.

Man with nasal cannula delivering oxygen during a power outage
Nasal cannula delivers supplemental oxygen

(There are also small bottles and cans of liquid oxygen available as non-prescription supplements. They are only a very short term solution to an immediate medical issue and don’t fit into this discussion.)

“What’s the difference between a tank and a concentrator?”

Tanks deliver a steady stream of oxygen. A concentrator can deliver oxygen in a steady stream or in “pulses” that fit to the way you breathe. Your prescription will specify how much and what sort of delivery pattern you need.

Now, as I was studying this, I was mostly thinking about preparing for emergencies. So with preparedness mind, here’s more  . . .

  • An oxygen tank is the simplest device for oxygen therapy. The tank – called a cylinder – holds oxygen under pressure and releases it in a steady stream when the valve is opened. Ultimately the cylinder will run out of oxygen, so you’ll always want to have the next one ready. Big cylinders are heavy and pretty much stationary. Smaller cylinders can be wheeled around. Depending on how much oxygen you use, your tank could last for days or be empty after only hours!
  • An oxygen concentrator is a machine with a motor that, when it’s on, pulls in the air around it, filters out particles and nitrogen (which is what makes up about 80% of our air), and delivers nearly pure oxygen. The concentrator can run as long as it has electric power. That power usually comes from a plug or from batteries. (It could come from your car battery – but you can’t drive while using your concentrator!) Obviously, if you are on oxygen from a concentrator, and the power goes out, your oxygen supply will stop.

“Should I buy or rent my oxygen device?”

That depends on several things. First, on how long you might be using it. Second, on how much flexibility you want (stationary model, different sized mobile models, a light-weight model to carry around with you, etc.) Third, on how much you can afford. You’ll always need a prescription to rent or buy.

Medicare and private insurance companies typically pay some or all of the cost of long-term rentals – but apparently, not so often or not at all for the higher-priced mobile concentrators. Those you may have to buy on your own. Costs for concentrators start in the hundreds of dollars and quickly move into the thousands.

“I’m on Medicare and use an oxygen tank. How do I get a back-up tank?”

When it comes to getting an extra tank for back-up, here’s what I have learned. I haven’t experienced this myself so your story may be different. But to start with the basics regarding Medicare . . . 

  1. Your doctor issues the prescription for your oxygen: how much, how often, etc.
  2. The doctor sends the prescription to a Medicare provider.
  3. The Medicare provider delivers to you the device that fits the prescription.
  4. Medicare pays the provider on your behalf. (You may have a co-pay.)

Now, providers don’t like to “lose” their customers. They want to keep you satisfied. However, Medicare wants to pay the minimum for your care. Medicare doesn’t want to pay for anything “extra.”  

So your provider typically gives you just what the prescription requires. When you ask for a better model of equipment, or an “extra back-up tank,” your provider may say, “No, not approved by Medicare.”

To be fair, some providers seem to schedule deliveries in such a way that they deliver multiple tanks at once.  In that case, you might have the extra tank you want during a power outage.

“I’ve already asked for and been refused a back-up oxygen supply by my Medicare provider. Any suggestions?”

Go back and take a look at the recommendations in PART ONE about having a plan to get to where you can access the oxygen you need.

Then, consider the following.

Isn’t the government constantly urging us to prepare for emergencies? At the same time, Medicare (the government!) seems to resist helping us get a back-up supply of prescriptions – including a back-up supply of oxygen! Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – and I’ve worked with my own doctors, and worked around them, to try to build my own back-up prescription supplies.

But one person’s complaints are not likely to really go anywhere when it comes to making a change. To have a real impact, we have to put on our organizing hats and find others with the same concerns! Here’s how a group might go about making a change.

Start with your doctor. Find out why the doctor recommends a particular Medicare provider. Explain that your provider doesn’t seem able to give you what you might need for oxygen in a power outage (for example, extra tanks or extra batteries). See if you can be assigned another provider willing to provide back-up oxygen for emergencies.

Push harder. Find out who else in your neighborhood or community is getting oxygen from that same provider. AS A GROUP, go back to your doctors and share your concerns about the provider. As a group, file a complaint with the provider company – it should have a grievance procedure. Or call 1-800-MEDICARE to file a complaint against the provider company or even against your insurance plan! (For more suggestions, check out this resource.)

“That’s a lot of activism!”

Yes, it is. And there is no guarantee that your activism will make a change.

But if you are on oxygen and the power goes out, you need a plan. This sort of activism may be necessary. Certainly, everyone involved will become more knowledgeable. And you can be sure that everyone involved will be better prepared when the next power outage hits!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The number of power outages is going up because of new, more violent storms and fires, and because our grid is aging. Don’t postpone planning for an outage, particularly if you are on oxygen.


E-bike batteries – what you need to know

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Ready for new adventures?

Yesterday I put the finishing touches on a long Advisory about e-bike batteries. Joe took a look and pronounced it too long and too “educational.” I accepted these comments with hardly a grimace because by the time I had put the work in, I felt the same way!

So today, the new, shorter and I hope punchier version. With one simple message:

An e-bike is a significant piece of machinery with lots of promise – as long as you take care of it! At the top of the care list: the lithium-ion battery.

(Note: This post is meant to serve as a supplement to any materials provided by the e-bike manufacturer. It does not replace manufacturer recommendations!)

Short background from 2005. I was an early adopter of e-bikes. My first bike featured a heavy and off-balance acid-lead battery, but how I loved riding it! My only problem: wrestling the bike up onto the porch!

Jump to 2022. E-bikes are clearly the rage – “… the largest growing transportation sector in America. (ABC, August 26, 2022. https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/e-bikes-are-gaining-popularity). At the same time, if you dig a bit deeper (as I did), you’ll discover some disquieting news. Lithium-ion e-bike batteries can catch on fire and even explode!

My initial question was: Are these batteries really dangerous?  

My research shows that it’s not fair to think all e-bike batteries are just waiting to explode. In fact, many of the fires (and there have been hundreds) have actually been associated with lithium-ion batteries in scooters, hover-boards, etc. and NOT bicycles.

Unlike these smaller device manufacturers, the bicycle industry has been busy setting safety standards for its batteries and charging procedures. Those are what this post is all about!

Every e-bike rider needs to know these basics. They should be in the manual. Read everything and follow the directions!

What should you be looking for? For sure, your e-bike manual should have plenty of clearly spelled-out details regarding battery use and maintenance:

  • The initial charge, when and how often to recharge, where to charge, how to store the battery, etc. Always use the original charging cord.
  • Regular checks for punctures, swelling, weird smells or sounds. If you find any damage, stop riding and get that battery checked out.
  • Recycle your dead battery through your manufacturer’s program or at a hazardous waste collection center. Do NOT throw it into the trash!

If the bikes you are looking at don’t seem to provide all these details, do more research yourself online. Remember, battery size and design vary – they are meant to fit the way you want to use your bike. But whatever style bike you’re looking for, experts recommend you only consider an e-bike whose battery has been certified to UL (Underwriter Research Labs) standards. That battery will probably be a name brand – and not the cheapest.

(The battery is probably the most expensive component of the e-bike. This comment from e-bike industry consultant Mike Fritz makes the relationship between cost and quality pretty clear: “ . . .a quality battery pack sells (edit added: to the manufacturer) for about $300, so it’s unlikely that a complete bike that includes such a battery could retail for $800.” https://www.bicycleretailer.com/industry-news.)

The one piece of info that you probably will NOT find in the manufacturer’s materials – what to do if your battery actually does catch fire.

Yes, it’s rare. But we’re into preparedness, right? A lithium-ion fire is extremely dangerous. You probably can’t put it out yourself. Evacuate the area and call 911. Above all, do not put water on a lithium-ion fire! Professionals know how to smother the fire or let it burn itself out.

OK, that’s it for today. I hope you’ll get the right e-bike and enjoy its benefits: efficient commuting, improved air quality, great exercise. And so much fun! Just treat it with the respect it deserves!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I’m not an expert on e-bikes or their batteries. This information came from a variety of sources “deemed to be reliable.” As you consider your own purchase, please don‘t treat it casually. Do your own homework and ask your own questions.


The Joy of Giving — to Senior Citizens

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As a senior citizen, you can give others the chance to experience the joy of giving to YOU. Here’s how . . .

When we get to November, we know that “holiday season” is just around the corner. So every year here at Emergency Plan Guide we remind you that preparedness items make good stocking stuffers for kids as well as smart “thank-you gifts” for employees.

This year, though, we are turning things around. We’re not suggesting that you experience the joy of giving to others.

This year, we want to help others get the joy of giving . . . to you!

This is an idea that came up at a recent neighborhood meeting, here in our senior community. (Since everyone at the meeting was a senior citizen, they agreed it was a GREAT idea.) It was such a good idea that we turned it into a newsletter article to share with all!

So here’s what our group will be publishing the first week of December, in time for Hanukkah and Christmas. Today, though, as a reader of Emergency Plan Guide, you’re getting this good idea early.

The Holiday List for Seniors . . .

My Neighbors Helped Me Make this List!

  • Show me how to QUICKLY call 911 using my cellphone.
  • Make sure my doors aren’t blocked with furniture, boxes, etc.
  • Help me get rid of trip hazards — throw rugs, pet dishes, etc.
  • Can you bring me some half-gallon bottles of water?
  • Do all my windows open? Do all my lights work?
  • Grab a towel (to muffle the sound) and test my smoke alarms.
  • Be sure I have a working flashlight in every room.
  • Help me pack an “Under the bed” kit in case a disaster hits at night: flashlight, shoes, sweater or jacket, whistle, gloves, list of emergency contact names, and some water.

This checklist is a great preparedness exercise for an older friend or family member.

Here’s the step-by-step . . .

  1. Are you, or do you know, someone who could use a helping hand to make sure their home is as safe as it ought to be? Cut out this list and hand it to them.
  2. Tell them to check off small safety or preparedness jobs that just aren’t getting done around the house.
  3. Finally, mail or hand the list to younger friends or family members who are planning a holiday visit. If they arrive with list in hand, they will easily get these simple jobs done!

I guarantee that this list has the chance to produce a big WIN-WIN!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. In this case, the joy of giving is actually a 3-way win!

  • If you’re the one receiving these small gifts, you’ll be so much more comfortable and more confident as you head into a new year.
  • If it’s your mother or father or another older relative that gets these small safety gifts, you can feel satisfied that you have done a good turn – or two.
  • If it’s a neighbor who receives these gifts – your whole neighborhood will be safer in the future.

Take advantage of this simple giving opportunity. Such opportunities don’t come along every day.


Would these “election observers” intimidate you?

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Armed, camouflage-dressed election observers, sitting quietly along road to polling place.

So you’re on your way to vote. It’s late. As you hurry toward the voting site, you suddenly become aware of people along the path dressed in full-on military gear! They are sitting quietly, watching you. Oh, they’re “election observers!” And you think they may have taken your picture!

Would you feel intimidated walking by these guys???

I admit I would. But . . .

Have they infringed on your rights by sitting there in this way?

Well, a judge in Arizona just ruled that their looks and behavior are perfectly legal.

I was surprised at that verdict. So I had to take deeper look at what really makes up voter intimidation.  This Advisory covers some of what I’ve learned. Disclaimer: I’m not a legal authority so this is an ordinary citizen’s understanding based on reasonable research from sources I think are reliable. You can see some of the sources in the P.S.  

First of all, since 2020 voter intimidation IS illegal under federal law.

When there’s a federal office on the ballot, federal rules apply.

But your state may set slightly different rules about, for example, how many feet from the voting place election observers have to remain. And, as we have seen, a judge may find, as the Arizona judge did, that observers are allowed by the first amendment to simply sit there, to watch and even to take photos. While many voters may be alarmed by the presence of the observers, the Arizona judge ruled they do not present a “legitimate threat.”

What would those election observers have to do to be committing clearly illegal intimidation?

I found several definitions. Here are examples of intimidation that different sources seem to agree on:

  • Behaving violently inside or outside the polling site
  • Verbally threatening violence
  • Confronting you face to face
  • Spreading false information about voting requirements
  • Pretending to be a voting official
  • Brandishing firearms
  • Approaching your car and writing down your license plate number
  • Blocking your access to the polling place
  • Questioning you about your right to vote
  • Following you into or from the polling place

Illegal activity seems to be defined as ACTIVE physical or verbal confrontation.

If you are aware of what’s going on around you, and experience any illegal activities when you go to vote, you need to let authorities know. As always, the better you can document what you saw or experienced, the more likely the illegal activity will be stopped.

If you are in immediate physical danger, or someone else is, call 911. Be ready to describe what is happening, where, what the criminals look like, how many potential victims there are, etc.

Be willing to report intimidation to election authorities, too, particularly if other voters were discouraged from voting. Here are some places to report:

  • Your local election official at your polling place.
  • The Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)
  • The U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline: 800-253-3931; TTY line 877-267-8971

To sum it up . . .

Voting and elections are what we use in this country to make decisions – at school, in our cities, states and, of course, at the level of the federal government.

Democracy requires the ability to vote. If voters are intimidated because of violence, then violence will become the way decisions get made.

Personally, I prefer elections to violence. If you do too, know your rights when it comes to voting. Don’t let those guys sitting in the shadows intimidate you!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Some sources for this Advisory:

P.P.S. Are you participating as a poll worker?  I am sure you have been briefed about safety. If not, or if you are curious, take a look at this 14 min. video put out by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). It has some good ideas about “non-confrontational techniques.”


Cooper’s Colors

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Image of woman walking, unaware of surroundings
Look familiar?

Even after years of involvement in emergency preparedness, I can always learn something new. Today’s “NEW TO ME” is Cooper’s Colors.

I don’t know how I missed them. But suddenly they are in my face.

In just the past week two totally unrelated friends have made reference to “being in the orange.”

The first comment was from a retired policeman who now trains organizations in violent intruder response. The second comment was from a utility company employee who mentioned it in reference to his wife. I felt embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what they were talking about!

If Cooper’s Colors are new to you, too, please keep reading!

Cooper was a retired military colonel and gun expert. In the 70s he came up with four colors (later versions added a 5th color) to represent levels of readiness for violence. The levels have come to be connected to “situational awareness,” which we have talked about a lot here at Emergency Plan Guide.

Here are the common definitions associated with the colors:

Chart showing 5 levels of Cooper's Colors, with definitions for each

The goal is to move consciously between colored zones as appropriate.

It may take effort for you to get into yellow. But with practice, you should be able to operate comfortably there most of the time, with just occasional forays into orange. (Keeping out of RED is the real goal!)

I found a short video that does a good and simple job of illustrating the colors. The video is aimed at business travelers but works for everyone.

Here’s the link to the video. (It’s 1:33 min. long.) https://youtu.be/8xMyj1eyLuk

If you’d like more about Cooper’s Colors or situational awareness, there’s plenty of info available! Here on Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written about situational awareness multiple times. (Article with my favorite photo: https://emergencyplanguide.org/situational-awareness/) And there are many longer videos on YouTube on the topic, too.

Now is a good time to be in the yellow or orange, don’t you think?

It seems to me that heightened awareness just makes sense as we head into the midterm elections. Crazy things are already going on. We’ve seen shocking verbal and physical threats being made against candidates, election workers and . . . VOTERS! (That’s you!)

Let me know in a comment if you knew about Cooper’s Colors, and how you have used them in your own life!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Joe says that Cooper’s levels of awareness remind him of the DEFCON system – “Defense Readiness Condition.” It’s used by the U.S. Armed Forces. It has 5 levels that increase from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe = nuclear war). As of June, 2022 we are at DEFCON 3, largely in response to Putin’s nuclear threats associated with the war in Ukraine.


Ready for an emergency rescue?

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Storm surge from hurricane
“What should we do next?”

Dear Neighbor,

Little did I think that last month, when I announced I was going to focus on “Bigger” issues, the first one would be Hurricane Ian. Joe and I have been absolutely glued to the television and to social media. Throughout, I kept thinking about preparedness basics. And added a new focus on being ready for an emergency rescue!

So many of the people being interviewed simply weren’t prepared – even those who said they had experienced many earlier hurricanes!

Here are some of the obvious basic preparedness weaknesses that jumped out at us.

Did you notice some of these same things? Which of these would apply to you?

  • Despite what appeared to be timely warnings of the danger to come, many people shrugged off evacuation orders. “We’ll just hunker down and stick it out,” seemed to be the attitude.
  • One reason behind that attitude? Evacuation was simply too expensive. No place to go. Too many miles worth of gasoline, too many nights in a hotel. “It’s not worth it,” we heard again and again.
  • When asked about preparations for sticking it out, most people seemed to have considered storing food and water. Of course, many of those supplies were ruined when flood water rose much faster than anticipated. And people who had invested in generators could run them only if their property remained above the water line.

What about actually being ready for an emergency rescue by First Responders or Good Samaritans?

Planning for evacuation is one thing. But what’s the planning for emergency rescue?

  • This morning I heard one group say that they had performed over 700 helicopter and boat rescues! Neighbors did their share, too, pulling people and pets off of boats and out of houses even as they were being washed away. Amazing and heartwarming to see.
  • Although many people were being rescued from their own homes, did you see how many of them came out in flip-flops or even barefoot? And how many had their personal belongings simply stuffed into plastic bags?
  • In all the pictures I saw, only one person had a pet in a container. All the other pets required two arms for carrying.

Do people have insurance that will help them recover?

So far, all I’ve hear about are abject failures of the whole Florida insurance situation! Here’s a quote from a Bankrate article dated just about a month before the hurricane hit:

Since 2017, six property and casualty companies that offered homeowners insurance in Florida liquidated. Four more are in the liquidation process in 2022. Other insurance companies are voluntarily leaving the state. Still, more are choosing to nonrenew swaths of home insurance policies, drastically tighten their policy eligibility requirements or request substantial rate increases.

Reading more deeply into the problem, I found that Florida seems to have had way more than its share of insurance fraud – and thus huge litigation expenses on top of claims due to natural disasters.

OK, so how should we respond to what we’ve just learned?

Here’s what I propose to do about my own situation! Mostly, it’s a review of the basics, but with a few new twists.

Do I need to add new threats to my “usual” list?

Here in California, we’ve always focused on earthquake (still at the top), but over the past couple of years we have had to add evacuation due to wildfire (even though we don’t life at the Wildland-Urban Interface). And heavy rain could be a problem even as we struggle with an historic drought. We are NOT set up for rain!

What disasters are on YOUR list? Have you added any new ones? (By the way, we have built a list of over 90 possible threats in our Neighborhood Disaster Survival books. That threat list includes a lot of “social” disasters as well as what I would term “natural” disasters. Want a copy? Drop me an email and I’ll send it.)

Have I thought about being ready for an emergency rescue?

Here at Emergency Plan Guide, and in my neighborhood, we mostly focus on preparing to shelter in place. Food, lights, warmth, water, etc.

We also plan for evacuation: car ready to go, backpack or rolling cart with basic personal needs, important papers, container for pet, etc.

However, we have NEVER really discussed how to be ready for a dramatic rescue by first responders, when seconds count! When I see people hauled aboard rubber boats or helicoptered clinging to a wire basket, it is so clear that they too need to be prepared. At the minimum they should be wearing shoes, have a waterproof bag for ID and medicines (simple fanny pack?), and a phone.

What else would make a difference? Let’s put together a training for emergency rescue! Send your suggestions via comments or email!

Do I need to revisit my insurance?

First, of course, you need to know what you need to insure. Earlier this year I wrote about one of the most efficient ways to create a digital home inventory – one that would be available “in the cloud” even if you lost all your records.

If you haven’t yet done a personal inventory, now’s the time.

Head back to my January Advisory  https://emergencyplanguide.org/your-home-inventory/. In particular, scroll down to the section on PINVENTORY. That program is thorough and doable. If you follow up, tell founder Carol Kaufman that I sent you!

Even before you finish your inventory, you can call to set up a meeting with your insurance agent.

Review your homeowner’s coverage with particular attention to flood damage that might apply:

  • Water damage (rain vs. flood – they aren’t the same!)
  • Wind damage (wind vs. rain – again, one may be covered but not if the other is present)
  • Coverage for soil displacement due to water, plantings that are destroyed, etc.
  • Any new requirements for “maintenance” or “building standards”

As I get this Advisory off, Hurricane Orlene is approaching the coast of Mexico from the Pacific – and it’s now a category 4.

Be ready and be safe out there!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. This Advisory is a very quick response to a very big disaster, one that we’ll be living with for years. I do hope you will be able to add what we’ve learned to your own list of emergency preparedness actions. Please share good ideas with the rest of us!


Big Changes Ahead!

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Dear Neighbor,

As always, welcome to new neighbors here at Emergency Plan Guide. Our community has been growing slowly and steadily over the past 10 years and I hope everyone has made some smart moves toward being better prepared!

I know that I have! And often, I have made those moves after learning about some new technology or participating in some new activity and writing about it in an Advisory. Can you believe it? I have written well over 600 Advisories, one nearly every single week since 2012!

Today, though, I am announcing a change. For the next few weeks I am going to be taking a deeper dive into some of the BIG CHANGES that are going on around us. Changes that are so big that our usual “smart and sensible steps toward emergency preparedness” just don’t meet the challenge!

Here are just some of the big changes – and the threats –  I have on my list to learn more about:

  • Climate Change and its impact on the weather: more violent hurricanes, unusually high temperatures, flooding where there’s never been flooding before.
  • Financial Stress caused by pandemics, supply chain blockages, the work-from-home phenomenon, a shifting energy supply – and, again, climate change.
  • Political Unrest and the emergence of domestic terrorism that is threatening different segments of our society and, in fact, threatening our whole democratic system.

If there was ever a time for increased “situational awareness,” this has to be it! And as a writer, I feel the pressure to learn more, know more and share it.

You can help! I want to be learning and writing about things YOU care about — big changes or traditional concerns. So can you take just a quick moment and let me know what changes, risks and threats YOU are worried about these days? Or changes you want to know more about because you see them possibly affecting you?

This is by no means a formal survey. But your feedback will help keep me headed in the right direction.

I look forward to your email reply!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

My email: virginia@emergencyplanguide.org

“The leading cause of death . . .”

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In 2020 firearms overtook car crashes as the leading cause of death for children.
One line heads down, the other up. They cross. What’s what?

We’ve said before, awareness is a big part of being prepared. I think the information on this chart is something we all need to be aware of. Haven’t figured it out yet? Some hints:

  • The lines reflect facts about children in the U.S..
  • They trace causes of death from two sources.
  • They show the new (since 2020) leading cause of death for children.

Those should be the clues you need! But to make it very clear: The purple line shows deaths of children (ages 1-19) over the past 20 years from automobile accidents. (Measured in deaths per 100,000 children).
The green line shows deaths of children 1-19 over the past 20 years from gun violence. (Again, measured in deaths per 100,000 children.)

In 2020, for the first time, firearms surpassed car accidents as the number one killer of kids in the U.S.

Of course, you may immediately question this data. Why doesn’t it include info for the past two years? What role did parents play in these deaths? How many gun deaths were accidents, homicide, suicide? Etc., etc. Where do other causes, like cancer, fit into this chart? If you’re interested in more detail, see my remarks and links at the bottom of the page.

To start with, let’s just consider the purple line killer.

The number of cars in the U.S. has continued to creep pretty steadily upward to around 276 million in 2020. More and more cars. More accidents, too. But the proportion of children dying in auto accidents has come pretty steadily down.

If I were to give you 60 seconds to come up with why, I am sure you’d say something like:

  • Roadways are safer than ever: striping, passing lanes, barriers, signage, etc.
  • Cars themselves are safer: mirrors, seat belts, warnings, anti-lock braking, etc..
  • Driver behavior has been influenced by: licensing by age and type of vehicle, speed limits, DUI controls, etc.

O.K. I think we get what’s been going on with car safety.

Now let’s look at the green line killer in the chart.

The number of firearms has gone up just like the number of cars. (The rise is more dramatic, actually.) So why haven’t children’s deaths from guns gone down like they have for cars?

The answer is pretty obvious. No consistent improvements to gun safety. No consistent constraints on gun ownership and/or shooter behavior. I couldn’t even find two items to make a bullet list with!

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re interested in preparing for and managing or responding to emergencies – all kinds. We try to help people keep emergencies from turning into disasters.

Lately, as the leading cause of death, firearms have become a disaster if not a catastrophe for our children and their families.

What preparedness actions should we be taking against this threat? Which ones ARE you taking?

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Disclaimer:  I am not an expert on car or gun safety. My Advisory is not meant to be a scientific report. But that doesn’t mean I wrote it off the top of my head.

I did a fair amount of research on everything mentioned here (and a lot on history and statistics I don’t mention). One thing I discovered . . easy data on both car and gun deaths is hard to come by. Below are some of the sources I found to be useful and I trust credible. But as you read them, or any articles on these topics, note the following:

  • Children” are defined differently in nearly every different report, whether produced by law enforcement, the insurance industry, government agencies, educators, etc. Be sure you are clear what’s being measured.
  • Deaths” are often sub-divided as to homicide, suicide, accidental and unknown. People dying may be killed by law enforcement, a family member, an acquaintance, or a stranger – and the statistics may or may not reflect the type of shooter.

Online sources I can suggest for automobile death statistics:

Sources on gun deaths and children:

And finally, a resource that I found truly compelling.

Research may provide you with statistics, but just as in the case of Paradise, another book I reviewed lately, what brings the issue alive are the stories of real people.  Not the people who died, but the people who lived.

children Under Fire, An American Crisis, John Woodrow Cox

I recommend to you this book by John Woodrow Cox. It came out just last year and is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The New York Times says it is “a deep and painful accounting, built from intimate reporting, of the traumatic impact of gun violence on children who have witnessed it or lost a loved one to it.” 

You can get Children Under Fire in a variety of formats including audio. Here’s the link to the book at Amazon, where we are Associates.

I believe that Ava and Tyshaun and LB and the other children’s desperate stories provide us with preparedness actions to consider. And now, we have to add to their stories the stories of all the Uvalde brothers and sisters. Certainly, that incident has raised even more questions and suggested more actions.


Paradise was a Test for Emergency Responders. Many failed.

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Could you survive a wildfire like this?

Since you’re a reader here at Emergency Plan Guide, I’m sure you remember the fire season of 2018: the “deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California.” You may even remember some of the statistics: nearly 8 thousand separate fires, nearly 2 million acres burned. And 100 people confirmed dead – with a possible 50 more never found.

But so much has gone on since then that you may have forgotten about the single worst fire of that worst year. The Camp Fire roared through the Northern California town of Paradise on November 8, in one day destroying 95% of homes and businesses and leaving 85 dead in its wake. Paradise was a test for Emergency Responders. And many failed.

Yes, you may have forgotten. But if you read the book I just finished, you will NEVER forget Paradise.

“Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire”
by Lizzie Johnson

How to describe this book’s impact on me? It was so compelling I read all day the day I got it. So intense I couldn’t sleep that night. Some images remain in my mind: walls of flame 200 feet high; children only vaguely visible in a school bus filling with smoke; propane tanks exploding like bombs; floating embers as big as dinner plates . . .as big as dinner plates!

People who were heroes. And people who made bad decisions. . . a lot of bad decisions.

Paradise is a must-read for people who can’t afford to make bad emergency management decisions. Here are some questions to identify who those people are and force them to think about the decisions they might make under similar circumstances.

Are you one of the people who could be tested by disaster?

Do you live at the wildland-urban interface?

There are more of you every year, and you are a target. At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written more than once about the dangers of wildfire, and how to be smart about defending your property from it. We’ve even written about new technology for the professionals who fight these fires. But technology only gives you more options. Judgment is still the real difference between success and failure. And in a case like Paradise, between life and death.

As I write this, over half the states of the U.S. are in drought. There’s no longer such a thing as “fire season.” Rather, it’s fires year-round.

Everyone at the wildland-interface needs to know how to build, how to defend, how to evacuate when fire threatens. As you read how people struggled in Paradise, your own choices may become clearer.

Do you deal with particular sub-sets of your community, such as seniors? Children? People with disabilities?

Johnson’s research included digging deeply into the living conditions and also the mindset of the people who lived and worked in Paradise. You get to know these folks and their community. It was like many others. But it had some unique characteristics that played into the choices emergency professionals made.

One was a higher-than-average population of older people – 25% compared to the American average of around 15%. This meant more people in Paradise had health and mental limitations, and physical disabilities. When it came to evacuation . . .

  • They didn’t know the fire was coming. Few had signed up to receive emergency alerts. They were busy with life, not watching the news.
  • In Paradise and even here in my community, older people have lived through other disasters in their lives. They tend to figure they will get through this one, too. In fact, many simply refuse to consider evacuation.

Seniors stand to fail the test of responding to emergencies more often than other groups. What about the seniors in your life?

Are you connected to a health-care facility?

Some of the most powerful stories in Johnson’s book describe what happens as clinics and hospitals are threatened and overrun by the fire. Talk about heroes! But talk about impossible situations: not enough wheelchairs, much less ambulances. Patients too large or too ill to walk or even fit into a car. Ultimately, no power.

How confident are you in your facility’s evacuation and overall emergency response plans? Or in the plans of the facilities where you have family members?

City leaders, including professional emergency managers, struggle to balance politics with safety. In Paradise, they lost.

Paradise describes a history of town development, where decisions were made by various councils about paving, widening, and narrowing streets. About water supply. Code enforcement. Hiring. Economic considerations often won out over safety. And everything came into play during the fire.

One of the most difficult decisions was when and how to call for evacuation. For me, reading the details of those decisions was agonizing.

If you are a professional emergency manager, a First Responder, or simply a concerned citizen, you’ll find yourself wanting to make a checklist of things to look into for your own community. I did. My list contains over 35 items.

First Responders showed up. But things didn’t work as planned.

Johnson describes helicopter pilots unable to fly because violent downdrafts threatened to smash them into the mountainsides. Police officers directed traffic without understanding where they were sending people. Communications between different departments didn’t always work.

Some Incident Commanders were up to the job. Others weren’t sure, and waffled.

Paradise can be a mini-study in how mutual aid works – and sometimes doesn’t.

And last. But perhaps first in importance: what can you expect from your utilities?

The Camp Fire was determined to have been caused by PG&E, the largest utility not only in California but in the nation. PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting that a spark from a 91-year-old transmission line started the fire. (Interestingly, the utility had previously warned that power might be shut off. Later, though, they claimed that conditions that day did not meet the company’s criteria for emergency shut-off.)

Does your utility do “Safety Shut-offs?” Under what conditions? What do you know about the history, maintenance and current condition of your utility’s grid? What plans do they have for back-up in an emergency? The same questions apply for your communications providers.  


These are only some of the urgent questions that filled my mind as I followed the increasingly desperate stories of individual Paradise residents. As each profile developed, I kept wondering – “Is THIS person going to end up being one of the 85 dead?”

I urge you to read Paradise yourself, as a citizen, community leader, or emergency response professional. You will be captured and inspired by Lizzie Johnson’s moving narrative. You will also be tested as to your own level of preparedness and readiness to respond. Please don’t wait.

Click on the image to order now from Amazon.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team